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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Trip report for Mera Peak Expedition in Nepal led by Dom Rudd and Domi Sherpa in November 2015

Photo: summit day on Mera Peak
Our Mera Peak Expedition in November 2015 was led by Dom Rudd and our Nepali Sirdar Domi Sherpa. The climbing Sherpas were Sonam and Lakpa. Tenzing joined as a trekking guide and our cook was Parbat Rai.

In this group we had seven climbers coming from UK, Germany and Canada. The first day of the trip was October 31st and everyone met up on morning of November 1st for Dom’s trip briefing. I also enjoyed meeting the group and attending the briefing. On the afternoon most of the group spent time in Thamel buying last minute items and also picking up rental gear for the trip as well as taking some time to explore some of the good restaurants and coffee shops.

On morning of 2nd the group took the flight into Lukla and after lunch started the walk to Puiyan where they stayed the first night of the trek. For the first few days of the trip there was low level cloud however there was no precipitation so the group did not get wet while walking. The six day trek into Kothe went well and by the time the group got to Chunbu Kharka the weather cleared up and experienced mainly sunny weather with wonderful views for the rest of the expedition.

On November 9th the group arrived as planned to Tagnag at an altitude of 4,360m. We include two nights at this cluster of lodges for acclimatisation and also include rope training in the morning and then followed by an acclimatisation walk in the afternoon. Domi and Sonam set up a fixed rope on grass slopes behind Tagnag and the group got all of their own climbing gear set up then had a demonstration and practice session on ascending and descending a fixed rope. These mountaineering skills are required for the steep final summit slopes on Mera Peak where fixed rope is placed by the Sherpas to protect this section of the climb.

On November 10th the group moved up to Khare (Base Camp) and on the next day they walked up to the glacier for further mountaineering training. The feedback from the group after the trip was this was a tough and tiring day to walk up to glacier especially this year as snowline was so high. In previous years we were able to do this training lower down near the disused tea shop however this year the snow line was high so it was a long walk from Khare. With future trips we will take this into account as it should be possible to do mountaineering training on the day moving up to Mera La. Also many members of our Mera Peak groups already have these skills and an acclimatisation walk from Khare might well work better for them before the climb.

Throughout this expedition we received weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and we sent these onto Dom by text to his satellite phone and during our regular phone conversations. As mentioned earlier the weather was fine and sunny from Chunbu Kharka however on the forecast before their summit attempt we received a strong wind warning. I have copied an extract of Michael’s forecast weather below:

"The jet stream and strong winds in the upper levels will be near our region through Wednesday. Some of these strong winds will mix down to our summit level and bring some strong winds at times from Saturday through Tuesday. Then on Wednesday we start to have a decrease in winds. A tropical depression will be forming in the Bay of Bengal by Tuesday and Wednesday but not expecting any issues for our region."

It is essential for the group’s safety to have professional weather forecasts during an expedition to Mera Peak. It is also helpful for the leaders, Dom and Domi, to receive this information as can use to plan the timing of summit day. The forecasts were for stronger winds on November 16th compared to 15th so in their position it was not worth delaying their summit attempt by one day.

For all of our treks and expeditions in Nepal we use Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents owned by The Mountain Company. These are three person domed tents where there is plenty of space for two people sharing a tent plus gear. More importantly these tents are incredibly strong and are designed for use on expeditions to the highest mountains. I have used Trango 3.1s on expeditions to Everest, Makalu, Broad Peak and Kanchenjunga. As long as these tents are well anchored they will survive almost any storm.

Five members of the group set out from High Camp at 3am on November 15th and continued until about 6,000m when the decision was made to turn back due to high winds. Everyone in the group understood and supported this call as it was clearly too windy to proceed safely. After getting back to High Camp they continued down to Khare later that day.

This group had a day in hand as they had not used up their spare summit day so the decision was made to stay one extra night at Khare. I gather everyone had a good walk up the moraine ridge above Khare with wonderful views on a sunny day. However the winds were blasting the summit of Mera Peak with white plume visible certainly not a viable summit day!

From Khare the group descended to Kote for the night and then ascended up to Thuli Kharka. The next day crossed Zatra La pass where there was some snow at the top so fixed ropes were placed for the top sections. From speaking to the group, the feedback received was everyone really enjoyed the days walking back from Khare to Lukla and I gather were some of the highlights of the trip. This group had a positive attitude to this expedition and refreshingly were not only summit focused.

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Dom checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Mera Peak Expedition

I would like to thank Dom and Domi for their leadership of this group and Sonam, Lhakpa and Tenzing and the rest of the Nepalese crew who as ever worked exceptionally hard throughout this expedition.

Our next expedition to Mera Peak will be in April 2016 and Dom has confirmed would like to lead our November 2016 departure. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups

Roland Hunter

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Trip report for Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek led by Tom Lawson and Gopal Tamang in October/ November 2015

Photo: Naar village
In late October, we organised our Naar to Upper Mustang trek along The Great Himalaya Trail. This trek was led by Tom Lawson and Gopal Tamang. Over the years Tom and his wife Jill have both led several treks for The Mountain Company starting with Dhaulagiri Circuit in April 2012 and again in October 2014 then Kanchenjunga Circuit in November 2014. Jill has led our Ama Dablam Base Camp trek too in October 2014.

This year for Naar to Mustang there were six trekkers in the group and in fact all of them had been on trips in previous years with The Mountain Company. We appreciate everyone’s support coming back for multiple treks with us especially this Autumn as Nepal is still recovering from the earthquake in Spring. As usual with our bookings there was a mix of nationalities with people coming from Australia, UK and Canada.

Photo: trail to Yak Kharka above Naar village
The group arrived in Kathmandu on October 30th and next morning Tom gave his trek briefing to the group and I also attended. On November 1st the group drove to Bhulebule to start the trek. The weather was cloudy with some precipitation as the group ascended Marsyangdi valley following a quieter trail opposite the Annapurna Circuit jeep track. Over the last few years trails have been improved away from the road so Tom made sure the group took advantage of these whenever possible. Many trekking groups now take jeeps all the way to Dharapani, however the feedback from this group was they were happy to walk from Bhulebule as the trails away from the road are scenic and varied and are much better than a long, dusty and bumpy jeep ride. 

Photo: valley above Naar village following Lapsa Khola
On November 6th the fourth day of the trek this itinerary heads north up the deep gorge of the Naar Phu Khola (river) and away from the more popular Annapurna Circuit. After one night at Dharmasala camp in the pine and bamboo forests at an altitude of 3,250m they walked up to Naar village at 4,100m where they spent two nights for acclimatisation. During this day the weather cleared and was sunny for rest of the trip. On the spare day Tom and Gopal organised a day walk up in the valley leading to Kang La pass and the group got impressive views of Kangaru Peak and blue sheep. 

Photo: climbing up to Kang La pass
Photo: summit of Kang La pass
Photo: descending Kang La pass
On November 8th the group left Naar village to start the approach to Teri La pass by following the Lapse Khola (river) valley, staying the first night at a Yak Kharka camp at an altitude of 4,400m. This section of the trail is narrow and steep but everyone made good progress to camp.

On November 9th they continued to a higher camp in the Lapse Khola valley at an altitude of 4,600m, planning the next day to walk up to High Camp below the Teri La pass at an altitude of 4,900m. The trail ascends on northerly facing slopes and soft snow from storms a couple of weeks earlier made the trail difficult for group and crew. There was about 10cm of unconsolidated snow on scree slopes and Tom and Gopal decided it was too risky to continue. It was not possible to protect this section of the trail with fixed rope and the decision was made to turn back from crossing Teri La pass. At the highest point reached, Himalayan Griffon were seen circling in the valley and a trail of fresh snow leopard prints were spotted in the snow. 

Photo: Braga village and back onto Annapurna Circuit
On returning to camp Tom and Gopal discussed the options and explained these to the group; everyone was happy to divert the trek to cross the Kang La pass over to Manang and then continue to Tilicho Lake and cross Mesokantha La over to Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki valley.

On November 13th they had a sunny and clear day for crossing Kang La and walked down to the Ngawal village. On the next day they walked along the spectacular high trail then down into Braga village with wonderful views of the Annapurnas before going on to Manang village. 

On November 15th they walked through Khangsar village before camping for the night at Tilicho Base Camp. During the course of the trek we received weather forecasts from and we sent these through to Tom on his satellite phone. For 15th and 16th we received forecasts with warnings of strong winds for Annapurna and also affecting our group on Mera Peak as well.

The next day they ascended along the spectacular trail to Tilicho Lake and camped near the lake. Tom made sure our Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents were well anchored in the event of a windy night but the forecasts for winds to drop proved accurate and it was a calm night, although the temperature dropped to near minus 20 degrees Celsius during the night. 

Photo: Tilicho lake at 4,900m
On November 17th Tom and the group crossed the Mesokantha La and everyone safely arrived to another Yak Kharka camp above the Kali Gandaki valley. I heard from Tom this pass is very steep on descent and fixed rope was used as a handrail for group and crew. 

Photo: summit of Mesokantha La
We used SPOT gps tracker for this group, for each night on trek Tom checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress: click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Naar to Mustang GHT

Photo: our amazing trek crew with Susan
The group flew back to Kathmandu on November 20th after a possible record-breaking 15 minute transfer in Pokhara. On their return I met up with Tom and some of the group in Thamel for an enjoyable meal to hear about the trek and their feedback. The group were happy with their trek and really enjoyed crossing Kang La and Mesokantha La passes on beautiful sunny days.

Thanks very much to Tom and Gopal for their hard work in leading this trek and to the Sherpas, Lal and Khumbu, and the cook, Ram.

The Mountain Company plans to organise our next Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in late September 2016 as I think the conditions on Teri La should be less snowy at this time of year. For most treks it is possible to cross high passes in November however given the steep trail on rocky scree up to High Camp it would better to attempt this trek when temperatures are warmer and snowline higher. Please get in touch with us soon if you like to join our Naar to Upper Mustang GHT trek in September/ October 2016.

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

Monday, 23 November 2015

Trip report for Lunana Snowman led by Almas Khan in September/ October 2015

Photo: view from Karchung La
This is the seventh time The Mountain Company has organised the Complete Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan starting in Paro and finishing in Bumthang. After another successful Snowman in September/ October 2015, The Mountain Company has 100% track record of organising this challenging trek.

This year we had eleven trekkers signed up for the full Snowman and like in previous years this group was an international mix with people coming from New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa, Canada and UK. Our 2015 Snowman group was led by TMC regular guide, Almas Khan. Almas has completed Snowman trek six times including both Bumthang and Nikka Chu exit trails from Lunana. For our 2015 Snowman we had our regular Bhutanese trek crew on board again with Dawa as the Sirdar; Tashi & Pema as guides and Tenzing as the cook. Also Airya was a new guide that joined our Snowman group for the first time this year.

Photo: view from Gophu La
For the first five days of Snowman it rained at night with heavy rains below 3,000m but luckily it did not rain during the day while walking. Once over Nyele La, the weather conditions stayed stable until they reached Thanza in Lunana then after that it snowed in the afternoon for next four days. The group pitched tents on snow at Danje, Tshorim lake and Tarina three days in a row and there was about 10 cms of snow at Tshorim lake at our highest camp. Luckily this Autumn there were no cyclones from Bay of Bengal impacting the Himalaya unlike 2014 with Cyclone Hudhud and in 2013 with Cyclone Phailin.

Throughout the course of Snowman trek we received bespoke weather forecasts from Michael Fagin at and this information is sent through to Almas on his satellite phone. Having professional weather forecasts is essential for safety in crossing high passes and for decision making in the field.

Overall the trail conditions were good for Snowman 2015 and not as muddy as previous years. For the last 50m on the climb to Saga La pass the trail was abit slippery but there was no snow on other side of the pass while descending. For our Snowman trek we include micro crampons on the kit list (Yak Tracks or Kahtoolas) and some of the group used these for the ascent of Saga La. Almas reported that the lowest temperature of the trek was -5.2 Celsius inside his tent in early hours before sunrise at the Tshorim lake.

For this year’s Snowman we made one change in the itinerary compared to 2014 by including three nights before trekking up to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4,080m. Unfortunately the standard itinerary used by most other trekking companies has only two nights before Chomolhari Base Camp and with this rapid ascent there is a risk of people getting altitude sickness. The ascent from Paro to Shana is an increase of 510m; to Soi ThangThangka is an increase in 720m and next day up to Chomolhari Base Camp is a further increase of 570m. This ascent profile breaches altitude guidelines. I have copied below an extract from UIAA MedCom Statement #2 Field managament of AMS, HAPE and HACE below:

"Above 2,500 to 3,000m the next night should not be planned more than 300 to 500m higher than the previous one. Have two nights at the same altitude for every 2 to 4 days of ascent. On this day you may climb higher but return to sleep".

At The Mountain Company we do everything we can do to increase the chances of our groups safely completing their trek. We have reviewed all of our itineraries to ensure adequate time is included for natural acclimatisation to the high altitude. We never yield to the commercial pressures of reducing the number of days to lower the trip cost and to make our treks more marketable.

Photo: Mt Jitchu Drake
Our Snowman 2015 group made good progress and did not lose any days due to bad weather or other delays along the way. As usual Almas decided to have only one night at Thanza and to keep moving in case a spare buffer day was required later on. In the end they arrived to the hot springs at Dur Tsachu one day early so they had two nights to relax in the wonderful hot tubs.

At the hot springs the group were very lucky as they saw a wild Thakin crossing the river near Dur Taschu camp. The Thakin is the national animal of Bhutan and is rarely seen in the wild. For more information on Takin please take a look at Wikipedia

We used SPOT gps tracker for this group and each night Almas checked in sending a gps signal to us so we could track this group's progress. Click here to see the way points overlaid onto a map for Lunana Snowman

Most of the feedback for Snowman 2015 has been positive and I have copied Neil’s comments below:

"This is now the 4th time I have trekked with The Mountain Company which I think helps to emphasise that I hold them in high regard. The treks are all extremely well planned, led by highly experienced leaders and supported by excellent guides, catering staff etc. As well as providing a wonderful trekking experience, the safety and well-being of clients and staff are always a high priority.

In summary an outstanding trek in a beautiful remote part of the world. I know that trekking in Bhutan is more expensive than some areas but this trek led by Almas Khan was exceptional, with stunning scenery, walking in some of the most remote areas of the Himalayas and enjoying so much of the local culture. Crossing so many passes between Drugyel Dzong all the way through to Bumthang provides so many moments as new vistas open up as you reach each pass, beautiful forests and the opportunity to see so much wildlife including blue sheep.”

For more testimonials on Snowman and our other trips please take a look at AITO review section of their website

Thanks to Almas, Tashi, Pema, Airya, Dawa and rest of the crew for all of their hard work, great job!

Modified Snowman itinerary for 2016

We had a further think about how to improve our Snowman itinerary to help acclimatisation before the ascent to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4.080m. I think it is such a shame to see other Snowman groups where members get altitude sickness at Chomolhari BC and have to turn back especially considering the cost of Snowman trek. Most other trekking operators ascend to Chomolhari Base Camp too rapidly. The “standard” ascent profile of two nights in Paro then one night in Shana followed by Soi Tangtanka then up to Chomolhari Base Camp at 4,080m is unsafe and breaks guidelines for gradual acclimatisation. In the past our groups had two nights at Soi Tangtanka at 3,510m whereas this was frankly a little boring as there were not many options for day walks from this camp.

For our Snowman 2016 we have come up with a modified itinerary heading to the less visited Haa valley before the trek. After the group's arrival to Paro we have one night at Olathang hotel (given
availability) and then next day the group will walk up Tiger's Nest and then in afternoon drive over Chele La (3,780m) to Haa Valley. After two nights at Haa valley we drive back over Chele La and then drive on through Paro to Shana for the first night's camp of the trek.

In Haa valley there are some beautiful day walks and as this valley is at 2,712m this is 500m higher than Paro so is very effective for acclimatisation. On the way back over Chele La the group will go for a walk up the ridge to nearly 4,000m and again great for helping your body adapt to the high altitude. In Haa valley we plan to stay at the wonderful Lechuna Heritage Lodge (given availability) for more information please take a look at their website

We believe our modified 2016 Snowman trek should add alot in terms of interest and also increase our groups chances of safely completing the Snowman trek. We have now launched the dates and prices for Lunana Snowman 2016 on TMC website so please get in touch soon if you would like to join this group. Almas Khan has confirmed his leadership for next year’s Snowman and this will be his seventh time on Snowman! We have already received several deposits for Snowman 2016 so I am confident this trek will be guaranteed soon.

*Breaking news*....Almas will also be heading back to Bhutan in April 2016 to lead our Rodung La with Sakten and Merak. This trek is an extension of the Lunana Snowman trek by starting in Bumthang and continuing east to Trashi Yangtse along The Great Himalaya Trail ("GHT").

Trek on!

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company